Myanmar: Junta Escalates Media Crackdown

(Bangkok, July 23, 2021) – Myanmar’s military junta should stop prosecuting journalists and end its assault on independent media, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a video about the media crackdown.

Since the February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar’s junta has arrested 97 journalists, 45 of whom are currently in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). Six journalists have been convicted, including five for violating section 505A of the penal code, a new provision that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” “Fake news” appears to be any news that the authorities do not want to reach the public.

Transcript

Independent media is under threat in Myanmar. At least 98 journalists have been arrested since the February 1, 2021 coup, while 46 remain in detention. The junta is including journalists in the nightly broadcast of individuals “wanted” by the authorities. Those wanted by the junta are announced on state media, meaning independent journalists are on the run. With credible journalists gone, all that’s left is government propaganda. 

Tin Tin Nyo Editor, Burma news International (BNI)
The majority of the people know that MRTV or Myawaddy TV channel is [a] kind of propaganda channel of the military regime so they don’t believe any news that is coming out from there.

Phil Robertson, HRW
The military wants to shut down any narratives it doesn’t directly control, because it doesn’t want the outside world to learn about the military’s daily atrocities against the Burmese people.That’s why Myanmar is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous countries in the region for journalists to operate in.  

Few journalists are working openly, and many are reporting while in hiding attempting to dodge the security force dragnets looking for journalists. Nay Myo Lin is the editor-in-chief of Voice of Myanmar. Early this year he was detained for the second time.

Zarni Mann, Nay Myo Lin’s wife
I was shocked to hear when I heard my husband was detained. Since February 1, I feel like I am falling into a black hole and I have no hopes, no future. If the situation is getting worse and it's become not a very safe place for us, our only choice would be to leave the country.

Many journalists have fled to Myanmar’s border regions controlled by ethnic minority groups or to neighboring countries. They say remaining in cities is too risky.

Ye Wint Thu, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) journalist
If they to arrest someone and if they don't find that person, they arrest the family member. That is why those journalists and their families. That is why those journalists and their families are really [in danger] right now.

Numerous, credible sources report appalling conditions in Myanmar’s prisons and interrogation centers, where detainees are subjected to torture,  routine beatings and other ill-treatment. Authorities arrested journalists Han Thar Nyein and Nathan Maung in March, and tortured them for two weeks at a military interrogation center. Charges were dropped against Nathan Maung, but Han Thar Nyein remains in Insein prison and faces a possible 3 - year sentence. 

SuSu,Reporter Burma News Interna-tional (BNI) Myitkyina
The military, when they arrest  journalists, they beat them. Some of my colleagues stayed at home and the officers came to arrest them at night. No one knows where they were taken away, but they risk being tortured. They are taken to an interrogation room without charges.   Journalists are paying the price for reporting with their freedom. DVB’s Min Nyo was sentenced to  3 years under penal code article 505A for spreading “false” news. His colleague Aung Zaw, and Zaw Zaw of Mizzima News were both sentenced to 2 years under the same charge. 

Phil Robertson, HRW
The Myanmar military should immediately  revoke article 505A and other rights-abusing laws being used against Myanmar’s journalists. They should also immediately  and unconditionally release all journalists held in detention. Importantly, the Myanmar military should also reinstate the media licenses of banned  outlets and allow them to operate without interference. But despite the risks of arrest or worse, and the junta's crippling shutdown of the mobile internet and satellite services  Myanmar’s journalists continue to bravely document atrocities and share information with the world.

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